Friday, November 27, 2009

Grant to assist Rochester service providers in understanding & responding to impact of trauma on foster children

Mt. Hope Family Center Awarded $1.2 Million as Part of Child Trauma Network
Hagen, Susan. University of Rochester News, Nov. 25, 2009.

Mt. Hope Family Center has been awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant to join the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a federally funded partnership of academic and community-based centers aimed at improving care for children and families struggling with abuse, neglect, community violence, and other forms of trauma.

The new funding will allow the University of Rochester center to provide treatment for 270 young children in foster care and their biological and foster families and to develop effective therapies that can be used at centers nationwide. Mt. Hope is the only program in Western New York invited to join the network.

"Being selected is huge because Mt. Hope will now be able to partner with about 60 centers across the nation, all focused on evidence-based therapies for children recovering from trauma," says Sheree Toth, executive director of Mt. Hope Family Center. "It's an incredible opportunity to bring in resources, one that not only enhances our capabilities, but that changes our community."

Toth explained that the new resources will strengthen ongoing efforts by Rochester-area service providers to understand and recognize the effect of trauma on children. For instance, she explained, a high percentage of youngsters referred for behavior problems or mental health issues in this community also have experienced trauma. Understanding that history and learning how to help children recover can be key to preventing a lifetime of problems.

The grant will supply support for a variety of innovative therapies that have been clinically proven effective, including one of the center's most promising: Child-Parent Psychotherapy. "We believe a strong parent-child relationship is the key to preventing maltreatment and building healthy families," says Toth. To reinforce those ties, psychotherapists will meet with families weekly, helping parent and child nurture a close, connected relationship and encouraging appreciation for the child's developmental level. Research shows that the psychotherapy program builds parents' sense of competency and strengthens children's sense of security and attachment, improving their chances for success. Without such intervention, explains Toth, families struggling with trauma often fail to create a secure relationship, which "sets children up for a cascade of failures in their whole life." As an indication of the success of the approach, says Toth, 48 of the 60 members of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network have expressed interest in child-parent psychotherapy.

The grant also will make available one-on-one therapy with children to help them better understand and cope with the emotional shock they have experienced. For example, children who have suffered physical abuse often believe that they deserve the ill treatment, explains Toth. Therapy helps children let go of these unhealthy feelings of guilt and recover a sense of safety. It teaches children problem solving and self-calming skills and helps them to identify and express emotions appropriately. To ease the adjustment to foster care, center therapists also work with caretakers, encouraging understanding of and appropriate responses to the negative behaviors that often accompany post-traumatic stress.

The exciting thing about this grant, says Toth, is that it will bring proven treatments for trauma to those who need them most. "That's a significant advance over the 1970s and 80s, when service providers basically thought, 'Well, I'll be a nice person to these children and somehow that will make them better," she says. "Children and their families now have the possibility of benefiting from interventions that we know will work."

About the University of Rochester
The University of Rochester is one of the nation’s leading private universities. Located in Rochester, N.Y., the University gives students exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary study and close collaboration with faculty through its unique cluster-based curriculum. Its College, School of Arts and Sciences, and Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are complemented by the Eastman School of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Schools of Medicine and Nursing, and the Memorial Art Gallery.

Underground Railroad to Success for Foster Care Youth

Local Advocate for Foster Children Awarded Business Grant
Baristanet, Nov. 24, 2009.

Tanisha Cunningham knew too well how difficult the transition from foster care to emancipation can be. Having been raised in foster care and group homes herself, the sudden transition to independence was jarring. "The fact that I succeeded is not the usual case. It was not because I was given the resources, but because I sought them out for myself."

Her own experience in foster care inspired her to work in the New York City Child Welfare Office and to later pursue advanced degrees in Public Administration. In January 2009, she started The Underground Railroad to Success, Inc., a Montclair-based non-profit designed to provide resources to children transitioning out of the foster care system. According to Cunningham, most children in this situation never receive information about available resources, information that could assist with housing, job opportunities, and tuition grants for higher education.

The website lists dire statistics about the path of emancipated foster children: "According to the Child Welfare League of America, 25 percent become homeless, 56 percent are unemployed, 27 percent of male children end up in jail."

Currently, the new organization's activities mostly center around arranging workshops for children aging out of foster care in the age groups of 15 - 17, or recently emancipated adults between the ages of 18 - 24. These workshops focus on a variety of life skills, such as learning how to manage stress and emotions, set up bank accounts, and dress for interviews. "These are things that may seem obvious to you, but for them they are not....Most kids coming out of foster care are not educated, they have system hopped from foster care, group homes, or been incarcerated," said Cunningham. "They need to be taught these skills."

Cunningham leads most of the workshops herself, but sometimes seeks the help of professionals, such as arranging for a Rutgers faculty member to talk about the process of applying for college, or staff members from local banks to discuss financial literacy.

In the future, Cunningham would like to raise the funds to create a group home for older children. For now though, the organization is still focusing on gathering available resources for foster children. Having worked in the New York foster care system, the New Jersey laws and resources are considerably more complicated by comparison, and the organization's first goals are to understand and compile the available resources to help the children.

URS was recently awarded a $500 stimulus micro-grant from Investing In Women, a group that empowers women with small businesses or non-profits. The money will be used toward marketing URS, says Cunningham. "There are a lot of people who don't know about this need, and we are on a mission to raise awareness."

URS is welcomes donations for their services and programs, as well as dedicated volunteers to serve as mentors.